ACC Basketball

Blue Devils Dominate the Second Half

(Dennis Nett | dnett@syracuse.com)

It wasn’t quite the tale of two halves, but close enough. The Syracuse Orange came out on fire, dropping bombs from deep, hitting 15 of their first 29 shots to open up the kind of lead that would even make this coach say, “whoa, little much, guys.”

Yet, Duke finished the half on a 13-5 run, thanks to a trio of treys from Quinn Cook, Justise Winslow and Matt Jones and then decided they liked it so much, decided to start the second half the way they ended it, this time going on a 13-2 run (26-7 run overall). In the span of eight minutes worth of basketball, Duke turned a nine-point deficit into a eight-point lead, eventually hitting on ten of their first 11 shots in the second.

They relying on their dribble drive, piercing through the heart of the Syracuse zone. Often Jahlil Okafor was happy to take an easy pass for a dunk when Rakeem Christmas came out to help with a block attempt.

Talk before the game was about the looming battle of the big men, but both Christmas and Okafor struggled early. Instead, the man with the plan was former Duke player, Michael Gbinije. After missing his first shot of the game, he was stoppable, making seven of his next eight, scoring 19 in the first half. He had a personal 9-0 run after Duke had tied it at 18-18 midway through the first. Trevor Cooney also got into the scoring action, hitting his first three treys of the game.

However, after the hot start, the Blue Devils stopped leaving Gbinije and Cooney alone to double and forced someone else to beat them. While Tyler Robinson had some success pounding the rock inside against the smaller Justise Winslow (scoring 19 points), the rest of the team went cold and Syracuse was never able to recover from the Duke run.

Rakeem Christmas actually played aggressive (nearly fouling out Okafor) and made good moves down low, but he simply couldn’t get the ball to roll in, as he missed 12 of his 17 shots, all near the rim. Meanwhile, Okafor owned the three-feet around the rim in the second period, finishing with 23 points (10-15) and 13 rebounds. Quinn Cook chipped in 17, while Tyus Jones had 11 points and six assists.

Now I have to get something off my chest. Can I just say I hate Trevor Cooney? Actually, I think hate is not the right word. I hate the Nazis, not a college basketball player. Let’s say it like this…I would not want Cooney starting on my team. He has to be one of the top-five worst starters in this league.

He’s just been awful lately. Yes, shooters have slumps and shooters need to shoot themselves out of a slump, but he’s not a shooter. I don’t care that he was one heading into college. He’s never even sniffed 40% and he’s worse this year. Against Duke he started hot, hitting three open jumpers. However, he would go on to miss ten straight, before jacking up and making one when the game was out of reach.

Two in particular explain why I can’t stand Cooney. With Duke’s second half run starting to slow up around the 12-minute mark, this was the time for the Orange to make it a game again. However, in back-to-back possessions Cooney threw up two awful running, off-balanced threes right in front of his coach no less. Syracuse was inching closer. They were down just seven, with an opportunity to get Duke thinking again, but this idiot just throws up junk.

Anyhow, Syracuse falls to 23-16 since their last win against the Blue Devils last year. They are 16-9 this season, 7-5 in the ACC and things won’t get any easier. Their next five will be brutal, with Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame coming up next, before going to Duke and then facing Virginia. They need four wins to have a 20-win season, but I’m not sure I see that happening.

As for Duke, I have to be honest, I can’t remember a team having this many impressive road wins on their resume. Sure the Orange are not what they normally are, but this was their Super Bowl in the Dome in front of 35K fans. This wasn’t going to be like visiting Florida State in Tallahassee. Yet, add to the list that includes Wisconsin, Louisville and Virginia. Now that it seems that Coach K has worked out some of the kinks defensively, when this team is motivate, they are unflappable.

The Blue Devils improve to 22-3, 9-3 in conference. They now sit alone in third place (thanks to loses by North Carolina and Louisville). They are just a half-game back of Notre Dame for second, but remain two back of Virginia. Next up, some little team named North Carolina.

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